An equinox occurs twice a year, around 21 March and 21 September. The word itself has several related definitions.
The oldest meaning is the day when daytime and night are of approximately equal duration. The word equinox comes from this definition, derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night).
The equinox is not exactly the same as the day when period of daytime and night are of equal length for two reasons. Firstly, sunrise, which begins daytime, occurs when the top of the Sun’s disk rises above the eastern horizon. At that instant, the disk’s center is still below the horizon. Secondly, Earth’s atmosphere refracts sunlight. As a result, an observer sees daylight before the first glimpse of the Sun’s disk above the horizon. To avoid this ambiguity, the word equilux is sometimes used to mean a day on which the periods of daylight and night are equal. Times of sunset and sunrise vary with an observer’s location (longitude and latitude), so the dates when day and night are closest together in length depend on location.
The other definitions are based on several related simultaneous astronomical events, and refer either to the events themselves or to the days on which they occur. These events are the reason that the period of daytime and night are approximately equal on the day of an equinox.
An equinox occurs when the plane of Earth’s Equator passes the center of the Sun. At that instant, the tilt of Earth’s axis neither inclines away from nor towards the Sun. The two annual equinoxes are the only times when the subsolar point—the place on Earth’s surface where the center of the Sun is exactly overhead—is on the Equator, and, consequently, the Sun is at zenith over the Equator. The subsolar point crosses the equator, moving northward at the March equinox and southward at the September equinox.
During an equinox, the Earth’s North and South poles are not tilted toward or away from the Sun, and the duration of daylight is theoretically the same at all points on Earth’s surface.
At an equinox, the Sun is at one of the two opposite points on the celestial sphere where the celestial equator (i.e. declination 0) and ecliptic intersect. These points of intersection are called equinoctial points: classically, the vernal point (RA = 00h 00m 00s and longitude = 0°) and the autumnal point (RA = 12h 00m 00s and longitude = 180°).
The equinoxes are the only times when the solar terminator is perpendicular to the Equator. As a result, the northern and southern Hemispheres are illuminated equally.
Spiritual Significance of the Spring Equinox
The spring equinox is the time in the earth’s annual cycle around the sun in which day and night are equal in length, before the days finally start to get longer after the dominance of darkness during winter, and life springs forth from death.
Throughout the world, the spring equinox is a time of great confrontation between the forces of darkness and light, in the death and resurrection of the central deities of sacred teachings throughout the world. It symbolizes what an initiate goes through in a definitive and important stage of self-realization, where the struggle between darkness and light creates the opposition needed to attain immortality. This is symbolized by the dark half of the year on one side of the spring equinox sun, and the light half of the year on the other.
In Christianity, the spring equinox is the time of the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. Likewise in ancient Egypt, it is the time of the resurrection of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris; and the resurrection of the Mayan Maize God Hun Hunahpu. The Great Sphinx of Giza, in Egypt, symbol of resurrection, gazes precisely at the rising of the spring equinox sun. The temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia aligns to the spring equinox, and depicts the scene of the “churning of the milky ocean”—the struggle between the forces of light and darkness. At the temple of the feathered serpent in Mexico at Chichen Itza, the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl ascends the nine terraces of the pyramid on the spring equinox.
The sun’s visual journey throughout the course of the year signifies a universal journey, which has been understood and undertaken by people throughout the world, and throughout time—the journey to enlightenment. This is why the lives of Jesus, Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, Attis, Hun Hunahpu, Dionysus, and many others, match the cycle of the sun. Each of these deities revealed the process of reaching enlightenment in the events of their lives, just as the cosmos reveals it each year in the path of the sun, and why the lives of these deities share so many similarities. Creation is imbued with the very truths of the deeper purpose of life. This is also why ancient sacred sites and teachings integrated the movements of the sun and stars, symbols of nature, and sacred principles of mathematics, into their temples and texts.
Like the sun, at the autumn equinox, the initiate must descend into the underworld to face their own inner darkness and overcome it. At the winter solstice, the Son (the Christ/sun) is born within the initiate. At the spring equinox, the Son is betrayed, dies, and is resurrected to attain eternal life. And at the summer solstice, the height of light, the Son ascends to return to the divine source.
The Sun Christ
In the wheel of the year, the sun is the Christ, the Son, the universal spiritual force which merges with a person doing the spiritual work once they have reached an advanced spiritual level. The Christ is not unique to Christianity—Jesus portrayed the work of the Christ in his life, just as Osiris, Krishna, Mithras, and Tammuz did thousands of years earlier, and Quetzalcoatl and Hun Hunahpu did vast distances away.
Central to their lives was their own betrayal, death, and resurrection, which occurred on or was associated with the time of the spring equinox. Through their lives they portrayed what an initiate goes through to reach what has been called salvation, eternal life, enlightenment, self-realization, immortality, imperishability, awakening, liberation, etc., and what someone still goes through to reach this today.
Christ Centre of Medieval Zodiac
The spring equinox stands upon the point of balance, upon which everything pivots in its motion, in the universe, in the cycles of the seasons, and within ourselves. On one side of the equinox is the dark half of the year, and on the other the light half, representing the struggle between the forces of darkness (death and decay) and light (birth and life). It is this antithesis that gives motion to all cycles in the universe, and which is likewise found in the spiritual work to awaken. This is why Jesus, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, etc., faced their greatest confrontation with darkness to attain the light at the spring equinox.
Temple of Angkor Wat
This universal principle is illustrated at the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which aligns to the spring equinox. It portrays the ancient sacred Hindu teaching from the epic the Mahabharata of the churning of the milky ocean in a giant representation on its walls, and in the design of its temple complex which incorporates the sun and the stars as celestial counterparts of the story.
The story of the churning of the milky ocean shows the fundamental principles that underpin the cycles of the sun throughout the seasons, the cycle of our earth through what is called the precession of the equinoxes, the turn of the Wheel of Life, the cycles of humanity called Yugas, and the inner spiritual process called resurrection.
Painting portraying the ancient sacred Hindu teaching from the epic the Mahabharata of the churning of the milky ocean
The giant stone mural of the churning of the milky ocean at Angkor Wat depicts the asuras (demons) and devas (angels) as being in a tug of war. They each hold one end of a massive serpent, which is wrapped around a sacred mountain and balanced on a turtle swimming in the great milky ocean. As the demons and devas pull back and forth, they rotate the mountain which churns the milky ocean below. The god Vishnu stands at the mountain, which is the point of rotation, and the god Indra is above in the sky.
Mural at Angkor Wat
The story is also depicted through the design of the temple itself and its alignment to the sun and stars. On the spring equinox, the sun rises to crown the pinnacle of the main tower of Angkor Wat, which is symbolic of Mount Meru, home of the gods—representing Indra (as the sun) rising into the sky to return to his abode as the King of Heaven. In 10,500 BC Angkor Wat and a number of surrounding temples aligned to the constellation Draco, which is the celestial depiction of the great serpent wrapped around the mountain.
The Cycle of the Sun
There are ninety-one demons to the left, which are the days between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and eighty-eight devas to the right who are joined by Vishnu, Indra, and Kurma (the turtle incarnation of Vishnu), which are the days between the spring equinox and summer solstice. The point of balance is the spring equinox. The pull of the serpent toward the demons, and then back toward the devas, symbolizes the movement of the sun (represented by Vishnu) into the dark half of the year, to reach the extreme of the darkest day on the winter solstice, then returning until crossing the point of rotation (the equinox) to travel toward the opposite extreme of the longest day on the summer solstice, and back again.
The Precession of the Equinoxes
The design of the mural also depicts greater cosmic cycles which our earth progresses through. It encodes the numbers of the precession of our earth through the constellations, referred to as the precession of the equinoxes. Approximately every 2,150 years the sun on the spring equinox rises in a different constellation, and an entire cycle throughout all the constellations takes approximately 26,000 years. Like in the annual cycle of the sun, in this cycle also, the spring equinox is the point of rotation.
The Wheel of Samsara and Yugas
Human existence also has greater cycles, just as our earth does, which progress through cycles of death and rebirth. These cycles have been illustrated in Buddhism as the Wheel of Life (known as the Wheel of Samsara). Like the dark and light half of the year found in the change of seasons from summer to spring, the Wheel of Samsara also has its periods of light and darkness. As the wheel rotates up it is in light, called evolution, and as it rotates down, it is in darkness, called devolution. Within the Wheel of Samsara is found the progress of the person through the cycles of life, with the forces of light urging the person to awaken, and the forces of darkness dragging the person into the Abyss. This same rotation is found in the cycles of humanity known as Yugas, which were also encoded in the temple of Angkor Wat—whole civilizations and periods of human existence go through periods of light and progress, as well as darkness and degeneration.
The Struggle in the Individual and in the World
This pulling back and forth between light and darkness symbolizes an underpinning universal principle in creation found in the cycles of cosmic time and human life. It reveals the role of darkness and light in creating movement through its struggle and opposition. But this also shows the role of darkness and light within ourselves and our lives.
This same struggle between the forces of good and evil takes place within the world, even though most people are completely unaware of it. In life, one is either taking part in this struggle or they are simply the unconscious victims of it. If one is in the struggle, they are either fighting for light, or for darkness. Those who do neither, who do not fight, who do not struggle against darkness, are simply as the creatures of the ocean of existence that become churned to pieces from the churning the struggle produces.
In the churning of the milky ocean, the struggle between darkness and light causes multiple spiritual treasures to emerge from the ocean, a poison that has the power to destroy the universe, and finally produces Amrita—the nectar of immortality. Without the opposition that darkness brings, there would be no movement and no struggle, and it is from the struggle that the spiritual treasures are produced. The spiritual treasures symbolize the spiritual faculties and virtues which the initiate gains through their struggle against darkness.
The poison that the churning produces is called Kalakuta—it is so terrible that it threatens to destroy creation. Before the nectar can be recovered in the story, this terrible poison must be dealt with first.
The opposition found in life not only brings out the best in people, but also the very worst, and thus opposition also creates poison.
As this is a core principle it works on many levels. In society for example poison emerges as negative actions and psychological reactions, in the practice of sexual alchemy as lustful desire, and within the individual as the responses of the many subconscious states and the actions that result from these states.
It could be said that the act of churning brings out the poison, and therefore separates it from the nectar. The ocean is life, the human psyche, and all of creation, and to have the poison extracted from it and separated from the nectar is of great value as it allows a process of purification to take place. In the work to awaken, one must be constantly struggling to purify oneself—to remove what is inferior and cultivate what is superior, and it is from the struggle that opposition produces that allows this to happen.
The poison within, all the hatred, violence, greed, etc. is brought forth from the struggle both within the individuals’ subconscious and externally within the world. The strength of the egos (emotions such as anger, hatred, etc.) stirred up is so great that it threatens to destroy everything that is good within and the world.
For someone doing the spiritual work, the person has to face what is within the depths of their subconscious. When the psyche is churned by the agitation created by opposition, they get to see what is really within them—all the egos that were previously hidden beneath the surface of the ocean (the psyche and subconscious), but which can now be extracted and destroyed. Also, when the events of life are churned, those who are of the ego are separated from those who are for light. The opposition gives rise to the land of action, where knowledge is found and intelligent deeds can be made.
In the story of the churning of the milky ocean, the devas have to ask for help to be saved from the poison. The god Shiva comes forth and swallows the poison as an act of self-sacrifice to save creation and allow the churning to continue.
In the events in the world, people of higher consciousness who see and understand the terrible consequences of the egos of others take it upon themselves to bear their ill effects in an act of self-sacrifice in their lives, which they do for the good of the world. Even though Shiva swallowed the poison, his wife stops the poison from traveling past his throat. This is the intervention of the Mother of the universe, who protects us and the whole of creation from being ultimately destroyed by evil.
Finally the nectar, the positive results of the struggle, emerges. Out of opposition comes the nectar of knowledge, understanding, wisdom, information, right action, good events, and what is of value in life to those who are working for greater consciousness.
In alchemy the elixir of immortality arises—that which the devas set out to achieve in the churning, which grants resurrection.
This struggle to acquire the nectar shows the important role that darkness plays in the awakening of the individual. It is in the opposition to darkness that one is tested, one develops strength, self-knowledge, will, wisdom, and many other qualities, and why before Jesus, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, Attis, Tammuz, etc. resurrect and attain eternal life at the spring equinox, they must firstly face darkness as the betrayal, crucifixion, and death. Jesus, like Shiva, had to bear the worst of human behavior in an act of self-sacrifice, so that evil could be brought out and exposed for the good of humanity.
The Role of Spiritual Help
While the demons are greater in number than the devas, the devas numbers are made up by the gods Vishnu, Indra, and Kurma, revealing that those who fight for good, though appearing weaker in the world, are helped by the spirit—and those with the spirit always win.
The demons try to steal the nectar of immortality using cunning and deceit, but instead fall victim to their own inner weakness, which is lust and sexual desire, and are distracted by an attractive woman sent by Vishnu. Instead, through the help of the god Vishnu, the elixir is then seized and consumed by the devas which gives them the strength to defeat the demons, and allows Indra (the initiate with the Son within) to return to his abode as the King of Heaven. This is symbolic of the resurrection of the Son. In the story, the defeat of the demons was only possible through Vishnu’s intervention, and thus without Vishnu’s help, Indra would not have been able to return to heaven.
This reveals that the forces of evil in creation, within ourselves, and in the world would always dominate those of good through the use of cunning and deceit, if it wasn’t for spiritual help. Jesus, Osiris, Krishna, and Hun Hunahpu are all killed through deceit and betrayal. But as Jesus said, without the will of his Father, he would never have been betrayed and handed over to death in the first place. It is the spirit that allows darkness its place in creation because of the opposition it provides. Vishnu promised the devas that they would have the nectar from the beginning, but that they had to first churn the ocean alongside the demons to acquire it.
“Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”